Differences Between German Shepherd and Belgian Shepherd Dogs
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Both the German Shepherd and the Belgian Shepherd have similar origins, their establishments dating back to 1897 and 1891, respectively. As you may be able to determine from their names, both breeds had similar functions, specifically guarding and herding livestock in their roles as herding dogs. Their locations and history are also very similar. The reason why these breeds are often confused with each other is their similarity in appearance. Despite similarities in beginnings, these two breeds have diverged over the years to create two distinct breeds.
In order to help you differentiate the two breeds, AnimalWised brings you our guide to the main differences between German Shepherd and Belgian Shepherd dogs.
Differences between German Shepherds and Belgian Shepherds
Before we can look at our comparison of German Shepherds vs. Belgian Shepherds, we need to clarify some aspects of these breeds. Specifically, we need to know there are more than one type of Belgian Shepherds. You may have heard the Belgian Shepherd be referred to as a Belgian Malinois, but this is not always correct.
There are different types of Belgian Shepherd which are not always categorized as separate breeds. This will differ according to the breed standard organization. For this reason, when making our comparison of Belgian Shepherd and German Shepherd breeds, we need to look at the individual varieties in more detail.
Types of Belgian Shepherd
There are four varieties of the Belgian Shepherd breed. They have very different characteristics from one another in terms of physical appearance, even though they are virtually identical in terms of genetics. For this reason, the FCI regards them all as the same breed, i.e. Belgian Shepherd. The American Kennel Club and similar organizations recognize the four types as separate and distinct breeds.
If you cross a pair of Belgian Shepherds with the same phenotype, the entirety or part of the litter can have a totally different phenotype to that of their parents. These means the resulting puppies may resembling another type of Belgian Shepherd. The four Belgian Shepherd varieties are:
- Groenendael Belgian Shepherd (otherwise known as the Belgian Sheepdog according to the AKC)
- Laekenois Belgian Shepherd
- Malinois Belgian Shepherd
- Tervuren Belgian Shepherd
Groenendael Belgian Shepherd
This variety of Groenendael Belgian Shepherd, called Belgian Sheepdog by the American Kennel Club, is characterized by being black all over their coat. Their hair is long and smooth except for the face. The Groenendael variety can have a small white ‘tie’ mark on its neck or chest.
Groenendael Belgian Shepherds usually measure about 60 cm (24") at the withers and weigh about 25 kg (55 lb), although females are slightly smaller. They live for around 12-13 years, but some are known to have lived longer than 18 years of age.
Experts believe that Groenendael Belgian Shepherds are not a popular breed for first-time dog owners because their overwhelming need to exercise requires space and special basic training.
Laekenois Belgian Shepherd
The Laekenois Belgian Shepherd is quite different from the previous variety. It is the oldest extant Belgian Shepherd variety. In addition to shepherding, these clever dogs were previously employed to guard expensive flax that was left in the fields to dry.
The Laekenois Belgian Shepherd is similar in size and weight to the Groenendael, but their coat is rough and frizzy. It can present in different shades of brown with some white, often presenting in chest markings as well. The fur on their head and face is curly.
During the two World Wars this variety of Belgian Shepherd served as messenger dog. Their life expectancy is similar to that of the Groenendael. Due their level of activity, it is better that they live in a rural environment, as they can suffer often from neurosis in cities if they cannot let off steam with large amounts of intense exercise.
Malinois Belgian Shepherd
The Malinois Belgian Shepherd comes from the Belgian city of Mechelen, known as Malines in French. They first emerged in 1892. With similar characteristics in terms of weight and size to the other Belgian Shepherd breeds, Malinois differ in that they have shorter and harder fur on their body and face which present in different shades of brown.
The Malinois is a very active dog that needs lots of space to run free. One of the characteristics of this variety is that they maintain the mentality of a puppy until they are 3 years old, with some remaining so even up to 5 years of age. This means when not properly socialized and educated from day one, they could spend years nibbling the family's shoes. It is imperative they can expend all their energy and in order to remain calm at home.
Malinois dogs have an alert and protective temperament. They are highly intelligent and keen on learning. This has made this Belgian Shepherd variety very popular with armies and police forces around the world. They are also used as a guardian, assistance and protection dogs, as well as remaining a type of herding dog. Of course, we must remember the specific training to perform these jobs must always be undertaken by a professional.
The Malinois variety is very affectionate with families, especially with children. However, this dog can get a bit too playful, and may unintentionally hurt someone small. It is not recommended to keep a Malinois in an apartment.
Learn more about this type of shepherd dog with our guide to caring for a Malinois Belgian Shepherd.
Tervuren Belgian Shepherd
The Tervuren Belgian Shepherd comes from the city of Tervuren, a town where the first specimens of this beautiful variety of Belgian shepherd were selected.
The morphology of this variety is very similar to that of the Groenendael Belgian Shepherd, but their soft and long coat has brown tones with some black areas. Their face has short hair and is bordered by a formidable beard that stretches from ear to ear.
They are a very active dog and are often used in surveillance, tracking drugs or bombs, disaster relief and defense. Tervuren Belgian Shepherds integrate very well in families, provided they have the space and time to train them and provide comprehensive activity that suits the requirements of such an active breed.
The German Shepherd can be trace its origins back to 1899. Their physical characteristics are well known, as they are a hugely popular breed as pets, show dogs and working dogs.
German Shepherds are larger and heavier than their Belgian cousins, weighing up to 40 kg (88 lb). German Shepherds are remarkably intelligent, and they are easier to train than the previously described breeds. Even so, they are a working breed, and they need to carry out some activity or purpose in order to stay happy and healthy. These activities can range from police work to visual aids for the blind.
A German Shepherd's temperament is very balanced provided that their genetic line is pure, because it is also one of the breeds where inexperienced breeders have made major mistakes. A German Shepherd that is treated like a lapdog is very likely to become neurotic and overly dependent on its owner. The life expectancy of this breed ranges from 9 to 13 years old.
Unfortunately, the genetic selection has led to certain common diseases of German Shepherds. For this reason, we will need to pay particular care to their training and basic needs. If you're considering adopting such a dog, take a look at our list of names for German Shepherd dogs.
There are different types of German Shepherd dog breeds, but these variations are only limited to coat color. Most of said variations are not accepted by breeding standards agencies and usually only the one variety of German Shepherd is considered official.
Do you want to learn more about different dog breeds, specifically their similarities and differences? If so, take a look at the following articles:
- Differences between Labrador and Golden Retrievers
- Differences between the Alaskan Malamute and the Siberian Husky
- Types of Spaniel dogs: Spaniel breeds around the world
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